Job losses in Maryland slowed in April with unemployment dipping slightly to 6.8 percent, but economists cautioned it's too early to hope for a recovery.
The state's jobless rate, adjusted for seasonal changes, fell to 6.8 percent in April, according to preliminary figures released Friday by the U.S. Department of Labor. That's compared with 6.9 percent in March, a nearly 17-year-high.
"The important thing is job gains and losses," said Charles W. McMillion, president and economist at MBG Information Services in Washington, noting the dip in the state's rate is likely a seasonal fluctuation. "Maryland lost 5,900 jobs in April. That's a significant number of jobs."
In March, the state lost 12,400 jobs when adjusted for seasonal changes and more than 10,000 in February.
Overall, Maryland has fared better than many states, and its unemployment has remained below the national rate of 8.9 percent.
Last month, Maryland was one of 21 states that saw a decrease in month-over-month unemployment rate.
The jobless rate for 11 states remained unchanged. Eighteen states and the District of Columbia saw higher jobless rates last month. Michigan continued to top unemployment with a rate of 12.9 percent, followed by Oregon at 12 percent, South Carolina at 11.5 percent and Rhode Island at 11.1 percent.
"It does seem around the country, the precipitous decline in jobs in the past months is slowing," McMillion added. "But there's really very little evidence that we're close to actually adding jobs. In that sense, it's not bottomed out, but the rapid decline has slowed."
During the 12 months through April, the state lost 71,000 jobs, not adjusted for seasonal changes, according to the Labor Department.
Maryland continued to add jobs in government last month while hiring picked up in the leisure and hospitality industry.
Christian S. Johansson, secretary of the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, said he does not want to read too much into the state's month-over-month unemployment decline but noted that the "glimmers of hope got a little bit brighter."
"The trend we're currently seeing is where we saw significant job losses month to month, it has significantly slowed," he said.
The state's jobless rate has hovered between 6.8 percent and 6.9 percent since February, an increase from 6.2 percent in January. A year ago, Maryland's unemployment rate was 4 percent.
"Maryland is significantly outperforming most of our competitor states, and our growth is coming from where we see core strengths: health care, education and federal government," Johansson said. "These are the areas where we're making investments in."
While Virginia's jobless rate was on par with Maryland's, unemployment in Pennsylvania was 7.8 percent last month; 7.5 percent in Delaware; and 9.9 percent in Washington.
Tim Namie, managing director for employment services firm Manpower Professional for Maryland, Washington and Virginia, said hiring has picked up, especially in the areas of financial and credit analysis and in the public sector.
"We have seen so far in April and into May, the second consecutive month of actually increase for hiring," he said. "It's been very encouraging."
Nonetheless, some employers are skittish about spending, especially in the area of information technology, Namie said.
Lloyd Day, a state labor exchange administrator for mid-Maryland, which includes Howard and Carroll counties, said the number of job seekers requesting help at the career centers in the two counties has doubled this year compared with the same period last year.
While there are employers still hiring, especially government contractors and work related to nearby Fort Meade, "more employers are becoming more careful in who they are hiring because there are a lot of qualified people in the workforce right now," Day said.
Using a portion of its stimulus money, the state is working with Howard and Carroll counties to employ youths during the summer months, Day said.
"They want the positions to be meaningful opportunities that the kids could learn from and use in later life," he said.